Sports economist says Chicago Bears should ‘pay for their own damn stadium’ that could cost taxpayers billions

Cash-strapped Chicago’s readiness for a ten-figure handout put the Windy City at odds with the state as detractors had a different idea after the sports-related proposal: “go jump in Lake Michigan.”

Democratic control at every level in the state of Illinois didn’t suddenly discover fiscal responsibility this week after the Chicago Bears unveiled their plans for a new waterfront stadium with the support of Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Instead, with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker atop the ladder of voiced concerns over priorities, putting the taxpayer on the hook for about $2.3 billion came down to who was picking the winners and losers.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, “The stadium itself would cost $3.2 billion to build, with another $1.4 billion in proposed infrastructure improvements.”

Citing sources with information about the proposal, the newspaper indicated that the team intended to front $2.3 from their own pocket, “But the Bears’ plan includes and additional $2.3 billion in public financing, along with refinancing outstanding debt for prior publicly financed stadium projects for the Bears and White Sox.”

Advancing the proposal on the same property where filmmaker George Lucas had been denied the construction of a movie art museum, in part because of the effort of the nonprofit group Friends of the Parks, Pritzker had spoken out against awarding the Bears any funds, instead putting his weight behind a considerably smaller source of return on investment with the example of the women’s soccer team, the Chicago Red Stars.

“It’s very important to me with all that the state needs to accomplish that we think about what the priorities are. There are a lot of priorities that the state has, and I’m not sure that is among the highest priorities for taxpayers,” the governor had said at a recent press conference.

Providing a less politically tempered reaction, sports economist J.C. Bradbury told the Tribune, “The Bears aren’t going to leave one of the most iconic football markets in the country. Tell the Bears to pay for their own damn stadium, and if they don’t like it, to go jump in Lake Michigan.”

Meanwhile, Joe Ferguson, president of the fiscal watchdog group Civic Federation, told the newspaper, “Everybody wants to keep the teams (in the city) — the question is, on what terms?”

“There’s not a lot of information necessary to say one of these (plans) actually is viable, or whether it’s a way to take us to the cleaners when we’re already carrying hundreds of millions of dollars of debt for the last time we did something like this,” he went on and added, “I think Gov. Pritzker has spoken to this exactly right, with a real wariness about public funding of sports stadiums. We need to see reliable, thorough revenue projections for this before we can even open the conversation.”

In his vaunted support for the proposal, which called for any new borrowing to get paid back to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority through the existing 2% hotel tax, Johnson had celebrated the potential for union jobs after putting locals on the hook for an additional $70 million in funding to support illegal aliens — on top of $150 million already budgeted for the foreign nationals.

As it happened, taxpayers still owed $629 million for renovations to the Bears’ Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, home to the Chicago White Sox.

The new proposal from the Bears came as the team had been unable to come to terms with the local school districts on property taxes after the acquisition of the former Arlington International Racecourse for $197 million in 2021.

Shifting gears toward a downtown proposal, Kevin Warren, president of the Chicago Bears, expressed at the press conference, “We feel that the time is now. I mean, every year that we wait it’s another $150 million to $200 million of increased costs.”

Kevin Haggerty


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